Reform public school education from factory-like to unfettered Jackie Sussman '17

On June 16, 1903, Henry Ford created the Ford Motor Company. Soon thereafter, Ford produced the Model T, which sold by the millions. The Industrial Revolution, characterized by materialism and mass-production, was in full swing.

At the core of this growth and productivity of the American economy was a ‘factory’ mentality. Uniformity, efficiency and most importantly, money. As a staunch libertarian objectivist, I love those words -- those words mean business is booming.

But apply the concepts of uniformity, efficiency, and money to pre-collegiate public education and you get students who are trained alike. Who think alike. Who are alike. Any semblance of creativity and nuance is squeezed out at the first opportunity, replaced by a homogenous and artificial sense of being.

Welcome to the American education system.

Infographic by Jackie Sussman '17

If you think I’m kidding or exaggerating, think again. The current K-12 public school system “largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education,” former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in 2010. It’s still the case today.

Photos labeled for reuse under the Creative Commons License.

What do I mean by a “factory model of education?” Reflect on what it’s like to be at Staples right now.

You sit in desks arranged linearly. You are graded, like beef, on a letter scale from “A” to “F.” You are clustered together in groups of approximately twenty students, each with different learning abilities and styles, and taught by one teacher. Your curriculum is created by education policy. You hear a bell which signifies the end of a day or class. You are precluded the opportunity to pursue interests at an individualized pace, which according to the Washington Post, educational psychologists have argued that “student curiosity and an appropriate level of challenge are key drivers in the learning process.”

Photo labeled for reuse under the Creative Commons License.

Yet most transparently, schools produce a uniform product using tools like standardized tests, which reward only one aspect of human intelligence: test-taking abilities. Even Frederick J. Kelly, the man who invented standardized tests, stated: “These tests are too crude to be used and should be abandoned.”

Horace Mann. Photo labeled for reuse under the Creative Commons License.

I’m not the first one to point out that this is a problem. Over 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock stated: “The most criticized features of education today -- the regimentation, lack of individualization ... -- are precisely those that made mass public education so effective an instrument of adaptation for its place and time.” Toffler is right. In 1843, Horace Mann (dubbed the Father of the Common School Movement) decided to copy a Prussian education system in order to “adequately prepare American youth for 20th century industrialized economy,” the Atlantic reported.

We students are the Model T. We are mass-produced, reliably uniform and created by a rigid and dehumanizing learning factory. Yet unlike cars, which have become incredibly technologically advanced and energy-efficient thanks to Elon Musk, we students are still a century-old model.

That needs to change. And the solution is technology. But, as Joel Rose wrote in the Atlantic, not just ensuring that teachers integrate technology into how they teach. “Our focus should primarily be to design new classroom models that take advantage of what these tools can do,” Rose said. As a high school senior, I cannot produce concrete specifics as to what these models should look like. Those are for the experts to create.

Doug Tuthill, a lifelong educator and former teachers’ union president, wrote an alternative solution for these models on Education Week. It concerns school choice, an education policy favored by President-elect Donald Trump: “As choice expands, teachers will see more opportunities to create and/or work in educational models that hew to their vision and values, maximize their expertise, and result in better outcomes for students,” Tuthill said.

All in all, education reform needs to occur. Whether it is Trump’s way or others, the factory model of education cannot continue into the rest of the 21st century.

The time for change is now.

Tags: Education, Factory Model, Reform, School Choice, Policy

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